By Kathleen O'Dowd
As a hiker and a cyclist, who spends as much time in nature as she can, hugging trees and such, my jaw dropped, as I looked at the weekend forecast in Columbus, OH. I could hear a wind chime outside of my home office window, reminding me that it won’t be all that long until patio season. . . but Saturday’s forecast was out of the ordinary. The self-declared outdoor enthusiast, REI member, and aspiring gravel grinder in me had an itch to get outside.
(If you don’t know what “gravel grinding” is, just know that it’s a couple of challenging, terrifying and inspiring hours on a mountain bike. Perhaps I’ll write about it when I have a little bit more experience under my belt.)
It doesn’t take much to create a spontaneous Facebook event. You’ll need: (a) a unique idea for an event. . . something you think your closest Facebook friends might be interested in doing
(b) a Facebook account, with a list of folks who call you “Friend” and
(c) a few simple clicks of the mouse. Use the “Invite” feature liberally. From there, a random conversation turns into an amazing, memorable event that creates a special bond between participants.
Friend: “It’s going to be a beautiful weekend, with temps in the 50s and 60s – and it’s February! I’m thinking about pulling together a bike ride for Saturday morning.”
Me: “Well, a couple of us are doing the Metro Parks Winter Hike, at Three Creeks, so we can earn our hiking stick for completing all of the hikes. Come join us!”
Friend: “Hmmmmm. . . I wonder if anyone would want to ride to the hike. . .”
Me: “Let’s do it!”
The next thing we know, a mutual friend, who is also a serious cyclist, is tossing his bike onto the back of his car, to drive in from 2 hours away to join the adventure. As many as 15 friends, and friends of friends, are on board for the day. They didn’t all click “going” on the event, but we caught wind of their interest, and continued to spread the word.
When we arrive, some folks would be meeting new riders for the first time. Others are excitedly swapping stories, with seasoned riders they have logged many miles with. One might wave back to a rider who enthusiastically waves in his direction, in greeting, even if they can’t quite remember each other’s names. They immediately recognize each other’s bikes and gear, but can’t place the face. Once helmets are on. . . well, a light bulb goes off, and the names are recalled.
We’d meet in an open parking lot, not far from downtown Columbus, and hop on the Alum Creek Greenway Trail, with the destination of Three Creeks Metro Park. It’s the 11th of 13 hikes in the Winter Hike Series. These friends have met up at many of the hikes, for both the encouragement of friendship and the appealing aroma of hot soup and coffee, which greets them at the end of the hike.
Once at the park, that’s where we’d settle the discussion of whether to hike 1, 3, or 5 miles. Getting 15+ adventure seekers to agree on a plan can be a bit of a challenge. But spirits are high! On a day that is as beautiful as this, all are in good spirits, and it’s impossible to have a bad day.
Alum Creek Greenway Trail is paved, and our riding pace was casual, bringing together riders of varying abilities. There was a good amount of spandex (padded bike pants and brightly colored jerseys), but there were also riders in yoga pants and ¾ sleeve hoodies.
There was at least one rider in shorts!! Reminder: this is mid-February, but unseasonably warm. We pushed off, with our bikes and helmets, sporting multiple layers of clothing that could be shed throughout the day, as the temperatures rose to a high of 65°. (Yep. . . it’s February in Ohio, and we have no complaints!)
About 9 miles later we were at the start of the hike, locking bikes to each other and to bike racks, based on which hike the riders planned to do, and how long it would take. A group photo is a must, along with selfies, trail photos and general silliness. It’s all done on cell phones, with images often posted to social media minutes after they were taken.
We commissioned a passing hiker to take our group photo, with bikes lined up in front of us. Another photographer, with his digital SLR Nikon hanging on his neck, noticed the commotion, and started shooting too. I assumed he was a volunteer of the Metro Parks, capturing the event. There’s a lot going on at these events, and we typically discover at least a handful of such photographers.
One of the most amazing things about these hikes, and being generally adventurous and open to new experiences, is the people you meet along the way. It turns out the roaming photographer was a man named Scott, a photography student taking pictures for a class at OSU. It was a portrait photography class, and he was trying to photo subjects that shared his interests.
After working for several years in landscaping, while completing his associates degree, he decided to continue for his Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Resources Management and Forestry. Earlier this year he’d photographed in Hocking Hills, and share some of his photos with me. We’d see him again, a bit further into the hike, and shout “Hi, Scott!”
At the start of the trail, we were greeted by a bald eagle who likes to photobomb selfies – watch out for her the next time you are out hiking! She also happens to be the photographer responsible for the cover photo of the newly designed Parkscope magazine, informing visitors about all things going on at the Metro Parks.
The hike itself went by in a blur of conversation, camaraderie, and support. One hiker shared stories of her recent trip to Cambodia, supplying bikes to kids who had no other transportation to school. Another began scheming about a possible “Casual Triathlon”, for those who only casually bike, hike and kayak, but would love to give it a try, at a fun and social pace. Conversations shift and evolve, as the person hiking next to you rotates.
At the end of the hike there was chili, served by volunteers who are quite generous with their time! There was also a chance to meet other hikers, seated along long, shared tables. “Snickers” was the hiker who caught my eye, a chocolate-colored rescue dog, full of personality, and walking the trail with his owner. He’s in training to be a therapy dog, which is a multi-step process, and the hike was an exercise in listening to commands, while outdoors and surrounded by a friendly crowd.
I could go on and on about the great people who participate in these hikes, the adventures had, and the outstanding volunteerism of those who support the parks. In the end, I can’t think of anything else I would have preferred to do on this beautiful spring day, or a group I would have been more pleased to share the experience with.
Kathleen O'Dowd (Kat) is a Friends of Metro Parks blog contributor. Kathleen’s work as a Regional Trainer at a national photography company has allowed her to travel throughout the country, working with local Photographers and Field Trainers. She has turned this travel experience into the material for her blog “Accidental Wanderlust: the Art, Adventures, and Attitude of a Work Traveler”. Having caught the travel bug, she started traveling internationally, and has recently traveled to Cuba, Costa Rica, Thailand, Morocco and her family’s ancestral home of County Mayo, Ireland.
With a Master’s Degree in Philosophy of Psychology and Neuroscience from The Ohio State University, and over 15 years of experience as a professional photographer, Kathleen merges her current passions for travel, the outdoors, art and the environment with her early training as a student of journalism at Marquette University.
Come along on her next adventure, or enjoy her many past adventures, here: https://kathleenodowd.wordpress.com/